Friday, June 1, 2018

Frontline Arts Exhibit of Veterans' Images

Veteran artists Ron Erickson and Sarah Mess
at Barron Arts Center (photo/Jan Barry)

An exhibition of artwork by military veterans is on view until June 17 at the Barron Arts Center, 582 Rahway Avenue in Woodbridge, NJ. Gallery hours are Monday thru Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 2 p.m.-4 p.m.

Sponsored by Frontline Arts (formerly known as Combat Paper NJ), which operates the Printmaking Center of New Jersey in Branchburg, these works were created in programs that offer artistic tools and training for novices and practicing artists, providing an opportunity to use art to explore personal experiences and artistic visions.

The Barron Arts Center is in a Romanesque re-purposed library building donated to the town of Woodbridge by the Barron family, including Dr. John Conner Barron, a surgeon with the 69th New York Volunteers during the Civil War.

The show highlights work by veterans and active duty soldiers painted or printed on handmade paper from recycled military uniforms. Much of this art was done in workshops in New Jersey and the Washington, DC area that Frontline Arts provided for veterans and soldiers in various locales including military hospital recovery programs.

Much of the work on display is raw-edged, unpolished, drawn from war experiences, nightmares and worries about living in a world of seemingly endless wars. Some of it is drawn from seeking peaceful times communing with Nature. Some of it is drawn from witnessing the brute impact of war’s assault on Nature.

Included in the show is a rough-hewn piece I did titled “Atom Man,” which incorporates a silkscreened image of Da Vinci’s perfectly proportioned man set in a circle with his arms and legs in various poses. I transformed this image into a facsimile of a handmade military patch that reads “Nuclear War Exercise Survivor.”

When I joined the Army in May 1962, I heard a hushed story of soldiers sent to Nevada to participate in nuclear explosion field exercises. Years later, as a news reporter, I wrote about how many of the “peacetime” atomic explosion participants died of cancer. Other unsettling memories include being in the Army during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union was exceedingly real.

Art by other vets explores war images from the First World War to Vietnam and more recent warfare in Afghanistan, Somalia and the Middle East. Other themes are Veterans Affairs health care treatment and horror stories. Some of the art—particularly, startling pieces by Vietnam vets Jim Fallon and Frank Wagner—won VA art contest awards. Some of the bitterest work, listed as done by “Anonymous,” is by active duty soldiers in military health care treatment programs.

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